Kavitha Sriparamananthan shares insight into their role as a Gender Advisor in Vietnam at the Institute of Environmental Health and Sustainable Development.
Organisational development and capacity building require both individual and collective efforts. As a Gender Advisor, my role includes developing the capacity of the team at the Institute of Environmental Health and Sustainable Development (IEHSD) to develop gender responsive technical solutions within the scope of the projects the organization works on. Projects focus on a variety of topics including, but not limited to, plastic pollution, bio-risk management, COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement, and zoonotic diseases. A One Health approach is applied across all projects of the organization. IESHD, the Center for Public Health and Ecosystems Research (CENPHER) and the Vietnam One Health University Network (VOHUN) together form the Vietnam One Health Alliance (VOHA). Not only are the projects implemented by IEHSD, CENPHER and VOHUN connected in their application of One Health but are also interconnected with and inform one another.
Gender is a sensitive topic to discuss, particularly in certain cultural contexts. I have been conducting a series of Gender Seminars with the VOHA team since the beginning of my volunteer term in February 2022. These seminars started off with an introduction and discussion of key gender terms and concepts such as gender equality, gender equity, gender integration, and continued with discussions of the gender integration continuum, steps to gender integration, how to conduct a gender analysis, and strategies to improve male engagement in project activities, especially those that are more female-oriented. We even had a seminar on Gender in Communications conducted by both Ms. Hoa, the VWB Communications and Community Engagement Volunteer, and myself. The great enthusiasm of the team to participate in these seminars has been evident as they discuss the material covered with partners to develop ways to apply the material to their respective projects. These conversations have piqued the interest of partner organizations and I have had requests from members of partner organizations such as GreenHub and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), to join in on these regular seminars.
In addition, the most recent seminar held in early December 2022 also included students and lecturers from the Vietnam One Health University Network (VOHUN). This session titled “Gender and One Health” focused on the application of the learned concepts to a case study through role play in order to understand the role of gender when managing infectious diseases within the scope of a One Health approach at the household and community level. During this seminar, participants were divided into groups and each group had to imagine they were a family within a community in which there was a Chickenpox Outbreak. They were then given a set of questions to guide them in understanding how gender norms, roles and responsibilities, access to and control over assets and power and decision-making influence the management of disease within the household and community.
Participants expressed that they particularly enjoy the interactive nature of the sessions (primarily online quizzes, group work and reflection and sharing sessions) as well as the application activities during which they get to practice applying the knowledge from the day’s session to a particular situation/scenario or their respective projects.
Not only have these seminars been very well-received by the team, as is evident through continuous enthusiastic participation and encouragement of partners and other stakeholders to join as well, but the team has constantly been making efforts to apply the knowledge gained through the seminars to their day-to-day work and respective project activities. The team does not see gender as an additional component to their project activities but rather as an integral part to be incorporated into all their activities no matter how big or small. Some examples of instances where the team brainstormed and developed ways to be more gender sensitive within the scope of their respective projects are as follows:
- IEHSD is also working on a project to raise awareness about Rinderpest among livestock farmers, veterinary staff, animal health workers, and other stakeholders in the community. This project involved conducting a needs assessment and developing a communications plan to be implemented in select provinces across Vietnam. When conducting the needs assessment and designing this communications plan, efforts to be more socially inclusive and gender sensitive were made and included in the communications strategy.
- As part of the 10-year anniversary celebration, VOHUN held a Student Talk Show on One Health and career development opportunities. The activity aimed to give students and alumni in One Health an opportunity to discuss and share their experiences on job opportunities and career development in the future. When planning for this activity, the VOHUN team was very proactive in developing ways to be more gender sensitive. They actively applied gender concepts discussed and developed measures to promote gender equality. They ensured that the panel of speakers consisted of a mix of genders so that participants could also learn about the similarities and differences between the experiences of the people of different genders. In addition, this would increase the likelihood of the participants being able to relate to someone on the panel as well, thus making the discussion more interactive and increasing the impact of the activity.
The aforementioned are only a few examples of the ways in which the team has embraced the idea of being more gender responsive and brainstormed and implemented ideas to do so within the scope of the various projects they are working on.
In my opinion, the progress that has been made thus far in improving the gender responsiveness of the organization’s various projects is due to the willingness and interest of the team to learn about gender, their ability to engage and involve partners and other relevant stakeholders in gender activities such as the seminars, and the enthusiasm of the various partners to work together to brainstorm and develop ideas for further gender integration. To me, such collaboration and coordination are the keys to the development of sustainable gender responsive technical solutions.
I am excited to be a part of the IEHSD team as a Volunteers Engaged in Gender Responsive Technical Solutions (VETS) volunteer and continue to provide support to further strengthen efforts to improve gender responsiveness of the various projects. It has been truly gratifying sharing my experience and expertise with and learning from such an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and hardworking team and I look forward to continuing to work together to identify and address gender issues in the various projects, thus promoting gender equality.
- Kavitha Sriparamananthan, VETS Volunteer Gender Advisor